Tag Archives: Multicultural Mentoring

4 Strategies for Success for the Low-Income Grad Student

piggy-bank-phd-mhtBy Kala J. Melchiori, PhD (Asst. Professor of Psychology, James Madison University)

Dear low-income graduate students,

If you come from a less privileged background, graduate school can present unique social and cultural challenges. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for low-income grad students after financial worry is belonging. Students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds report lower feelings of belonging during graduate school and beyond[i]. Students who feel they do not belong are more likely to drop out of their programs and steer away from high-prestige academic positions (like R1 or R2[1] tenure-track jobs) after they graduate. Below I offer some advice I wish I had heard before starting graduate school.

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Students at a #blacklivesmatter die-in. There is a planned die-in across the country on April 4. (Image source: Author).

National Graduate Student in Psychology Die-In on April 4

Students at a #blacklivesmatter die-in. There is a planned die-in across the country on April 4. (Image source: Author).

Med students at a #blacklivesmatter die-in at Stanford University. There is a planned die-in across the country on April 4. (Image source: David Purger, PhD, Stanford University. Used with permission.)

Editor’s Note: This post is submitted by Luciano Lima, a doctoral student at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, in Chicago, Illinois. APAGS does not have an official position on this event, and takes no responsibility for any actions that may result from one’s independent decision to participate. 

Open Letter to Graduate Students in Psychology

Over the past few years this country has experienced an upwelling of racial strife resulting from the deaths of numerous black men, boys, and women at the hands of police officers. In response, medical students throughout the country staged a coordinated nationwide Die-In protest against racial bias and violence, which included over 90 medical schools and thousands of students. I observed their activities with admiration and thought to myself, “Why can’t we do that? The reasons provided by the medical students for their protest are just as applicable to graduate students in psychology:

“Racial bias and violence are not exclusively a problem of the criminal justice system. As we have seen in Ferguson, Mo., New York, and countless other places, bias kills, sickens, and results in inadequate healthcare. As medical students, we must take a stand against the oppression of our black and brown patients, colleagues, friends, and family. By standing together at medical schools nationwide, we hope to demonstrate that the medical student community views racial violence as a public health crisis. We are‪#‎whitecoats4blacklives.”

Racial bias causes damage not only to the physical, but also the mental health of our clients. We are intimate witnesses to the psychological harm that results from police violence and racial profiling—from the teenager who is unjustly stopped and searched on a routine basis merely for possessing the wrong skin color, to the families, loved ones, and communities traumatized by senseless killings.

In the APA Ethics Code, a guiding principle of our profession is promoting the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom psychologists work. The code also calls on psychologists to “respect and protect the civil and human rights” of our clients. When the welfare of our clients is jeopardized by racial discrimination, we are called to stand up and seek justice on their behalf. Towards this end, we are calling for a coordinated nationwide Die-In demonstration of graduate psychology students and others who are passionate about this cause.

The nationwide Die-In of graduate psychology students will be on Monday, April 4, 2016, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

We call on fellow students to take up the torch and organize Die-ins on their respective campuses. The Chicago branch of the Die-in will be meeting at Daley Plaza (50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602) at exactly 5 p.m., central time. We will lay together in silence for 16 minutes, each minute representing one of the bullets fired into Laquan McDonald. Please bring signs and dress for the weather!

We have created a Facebook event page to help coordinate our activities.

We call on student leaders to spread the word throughout their programs, so that we can make a powerful statement of our values and vision for the future. Also, please share this letter on social media and email your friends and colleagues to help get the word out.

Your Fellow Students,

‪#‎psychologists4blacklives

For additional questions please contact Luciano Lima and Keisha-Marie Alridge.

Taking Care of Yourself in Graduate School

MPj04330550000[1]Congratulations – you are accepted into graduate school! Whew! It is such hard work to get into a graduate program that it is sometimes hard to remember to take care of yourself once you get there. There are so many things to be involved in, so many things you have to do and learn. And you want to give your absolute best to everything you do.

It is easy to become so engaged in all of this that you forget to take the time to nurture your whole self –the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. It is important to find a way to balance all these aspects of your life and maintain that balance throughout your graduate school years. You will spend many hours, reading, going to class, doing research, and seeing clients; however, to be truly successful you also have to make sure to keep your life in balance. This may actually be one of the hardest things you have to learn and, as someone who learned much of this the hard way, I offer a few suggestions that were helpful to me. I hope they can be useful to you.

First, keep in mind why it is you are in graduate school. What drew you to psychology? What does it mean to you to become a psychologist? What do you really see yourself doing in the future?

It is important to be really specific about answering these questions because you will need the motivation that comes from that specific vision often during your graduate school career.

  • If your answer is something non-specific like, “I want to help people”, it may help you to work on a more specific answer. Which people? Adults? Children? People with specific characteristics, issues, experiences? Try to really picture what you will be doing as a psychologist, who you will be working with, and the setting you will work in. When things get tough and you wonder if you made the right choice in pursuing a Ph.D., when you wonder if you should commit five years of your life, when you wonder if it should be these five years, when you wonder if you can really do this – what will sustain you is remembering the reasons you thought becoming a psychologist was important. It is not a bad idea to write these reasons down, represent them with a picture, videotape yourself talking about them, or engage in any other things that will help you remember exactly why becoming a psychologist was important to you.

Second, make sure that you are always doing something that you really love.

If what you love is clinical work, make sure you have something you are doing in that area in the midst of a semester heavy on research or theory. Even if your courses are arranged in such a way that you have a semester lacking in clinical focus, you can watch videos of psychotherapy, shadow a colleague’s case, or read just ten pages a day on clinical techniques. If research is your passion and you feel that all your time is being taken by practica and clinical work, make sure you give yourself the time to read the latest study in your favorite journal, attend a colloquia, or just talk to a colleague about their research. The point is that going a whole semester with no attention to the things that really make you happy can make you forget why you are doing this. Sometimes you get so buried that you cannot even remember the things that make you happy. That is the time to get out your writing, your picture, your videotape or whatever you did to document why this was all important for you to do at this time in your life.

  • You will always be busy, and if you are doing what you love, that busy-ness should bring you joy. If it is all just about what has to be done, if there is no joy, you need to find a way to reconnect. You might feel that you are so busy that you cannot fit another single thing in your day or your week. But if you think about the time that it takes when you do not want to get out of bed, when you watch a TV show you do not even really care about just so you can avoid doing what you are “supposed” to be doing, or the “just one more” video game you engage in before you get to work on your thesis – you will probably be able to find the time. If you are not sure what it is that you really love, think back to why you started this. In that, you will likely find the seed of what you love to do.

Finally, one of the most important things I have learned is how important it is to have something in my life that allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment.

When I was in graduate school, I was starting a placement at an emergency youth shelter for children and adolescents who had been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. My supervisor invited us over to his house for a BBQ. When we were all there, he said he wanted to show us something important and took us to his garage. Inside, was an amazing array of handmade furniture, in every phase of being cut out, built, finished, and polished. He told us that in our work, we very often do not get to see the outcomes. If people are doing well, they do not come in to see us. Often, working with children, they get sent off to placements, return home, or run away and we never know what happened to them. If we are going to survive in this profession, we have to give ourselves something that we can stand back and say, “I did that. It is finished.” For my supervisor, it was building his furniture. I have never forgotten this lesson and it has come back to me in many ways over the years since.

  • If you find yourself feeling strangely gratified by sweeping the floor — watching the pile of dirt come together, getting it all into the pan, and then throwing it away — you probably have a need for a sense of accomplishment in your life. Theses and dissertations, preliminary exams, and internship applications are wonderful sources of accomplishment but they are few and far between. We need something more concrete, frequent, and often visible. Our work does not often present us with a pile in an “In basket” that will all get transferred by the end of the day to an “Out basket”. We need to find something that can give us as much pleasure as taking an empty box, filling it with objects, taping it up, writing the contents on the side and piling it in an ever-growing stack. Even though it is annoying to realize that everything you need is in one of those boxes, it is an amazing sense of accomplishment to see the stack of boxes piling up. What can you give yourself that gives you that sense of accomplishment. And when you tell yourself you do not have the time for it, remember that you cannot afford not to. You have to nourish your spirit as much as your mind.

Remember that it is all about balance. Graduate school will build your mind and your skills. Don’t forget about your joy, your passion, your friends and loved ones, your spiritual life. These are the parts of your life that will get you through the long run of graduate study, will guide you in your work, and allow you to give the best of what you have to the work you choose to do.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Beth Boyd, PhD, Professor; University of South Dakota. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.

 

Overcoming 3 Common Dissertation Pitfalls

Most students find writing the dissertation to be the most daunting aspect of graduate school. When it comes to the dissertation, they feel overwhelmed and ill equipped, they doubt their abilities, and many give up before finishing. So challenging is the dissertation, that some have estimated that as many as 50% of graduate students are ABD (“all but dissertation”), which means students leave graduate school having met all requirements except the dissertation.

But it does not have to be this way!
Based on my many years of experience or working with doctoral students, I have discovered that there are some very common pitfalls and misconceptions about the dissertation that cut across nearly all graduate students and block their dissertation progress. The good news is that these problems are all fixable! Due to space limitations, in the rest of this blog, I briefly highlight 3 problems students frequently encounter and provide tips on overcoming them. For more detailed information on these and other common problems and tips, or for individualized assistance, contact me (tamara@thedisscoach.com).
Problem 1: “I’m too busy to write.”

Graduate students are notoriously busy! In addition to working on their dissertations, students in the PhD clinical psychology program where I teach also have to juggle taking classes, studying, teaching classes, seeing clients, conducting other research, writing journal articles, preparing conference presentations, and their personal interests and responsibilities. It’s a tall order; who has time to write! Actually there is more time than you might think. Graduate students (like everyone else) waste a lot of time that could be spent writing. Some time wasters are obvious such as time spent on facebook or checking email. But some time wasters are not as obvious.

  • Examples given by graduate students I talked to are time spent organizing articles, organizing one’s workspace, and preparing to write. Getting organized is important, but spending too much time on it leaves very little, if any, time for actual writing. A solution is to first create a daily grid and keep track of how you spend your time so that you become aware of what your time wasters are and how much time you waste.
  • Next, get rid of the obvious time wasters such as email and facebook by making their use contingent upon meeting your writing goals. Get rid of the subtle time wasters by scheduling organization time into your calendar as separate from your scheduled writing time. This ensures you devote adequate time to organizing, but when it’s time to write, organizing ends. If you lapse into your favorite time wasters when you are supposed to be writing, stop yourself! Remember that you have other places in your schedule for those activities so carefully guard your writing time and only do writing during writing time.

Problem 2: Many graduate students mistakenly believe that they cannot begin writing until they are able to have an extended period (say 2 hours) of uninterrupted time to devote to writing.

Since they rarely have such large blocks of time in their schedules, the result is that weeks (and months) go by and students never begin writing, believing that they did not have enough time. Research shows that those who write in shorter spurts of time are more productive than those who write in binges and they tend to find writing more enjoyable. The solution is to change your thinking and start writing in 30-minute blocks of time. Why 30 minutes?

  • Because most people can find 30-minute blocks in their schedules. Decide in advance which specific section of your project you will work on so that when the time for writing comes, you can get started right away (rather than spending your 30-minute writing time getting organized). Write as much as you can and when the time is up, stop writing. If you write for 30 minutes every day, by the end of a week, you will have spent 3 hours writing! If you wait for a 3-hour block of time to appear in your schedule, by the end of a week, you will have spent 0 hours writing!

Problem 3: Mismanagement of negative emotions. Working on the dissertation is often associated with negative thoughts (e.g., “I am incompetent,” “they made a mistake admitting me into this program”) and negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety).

These thoughts and feelings, if not managed properly, feed on one another and result in behaviors that are self-sabotaging. Take procrastination as an example. I had a student with lots of negative thoughts and emotions associated with his dissertation that would overwhelm him every time he tried to work on it, so rather than work on his dissertation he would over commit to other activities (e.g., teaching, taking on more clients, household chores). These activities allowed him to avoid his fears and insecurities while still feeling like he was busy doing important work that had to get done. While procrastination provides temporary relief from unwanted thoughts and feelings, the problem is these avoidance tactics prevent students from making progress on their dissertations, and that lack of progress fuels even more negative thoughts and feelings which lead to more procrastination; a vicious cycle. A solution is to recognize how your behaviors, especially those that interfere with your dissertation, are influenced by your thoughts and feelings. Applying principles of cognitive and cognitive-behavioral theory are helpful in this regard.
These are just 3 of the most common pitfalls graduate students experience while trying to complete their dissertations. There are others that are common and some that are unique to particular situations. Regardless of the problem you are having, the solution is to get active in figuring out the problem and what to do about it. If you have tried to do that and it is not working, there are other options such as seeking the assistance of a dissertation coach. Dissertation coaches can be particularly helpful if you have spent an inordinate amount of time spinning your wheels on your dissertation rather than making real progress, if your dissertation chairperson is not providing the guidance and support you need, or if you are at the beginning of your dissertation and you want someone to help you get set up for the road ahead. A dissertation coach can help you devise strategies and step-by-step plans to keep you making steady progress.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Tamara L. Brown, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Psychology; University of Kentucky. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.

 

Research – Get Involved!

Getting involved in research is an important and often necessary way to get prepared for graduate school in psychology. Research opportunities are usually available as long as you know where to look. Every year numerous students ask me questions about research opportunities – I hope this helps our blog readers better understand how to navigate this process.

Where to look for research opportunities

A great place to begin looking is your academic department’s website. I always encourage my students to read the faculty members’ profiles on our department’s website. This will help you get an idea of the research interests of your faculty. Decide which faculty members’ interests best match your interests. Then email the faculty member asking if you can meet with them to discuss their research and ways you might be able to get involved. Some faculty members will let you know they are not currently accepting any new students to their labs, other faculty members might not have research teams but might be willing to collaborate on a project with you. Some will immediately invite you to the next research team meeting, and some will schedule a meeting for you to come in and discuss your interests and determine your fit to the team.

  • If for some reason you are not able to join a research team with one of your department’s faculty, don’t hesitate to look outside of your department. I have a large research team of 15 students and half of these students are not from my department. If you plan to pursue research opportunities outside of your department you would do so similarly to how I’ve described looking for research opportunities in your department: think about fields of study you are interested in, go to that department’s website to read about faculty research interests, and then email faculty members.

Why finding research experience is important

Research is very important to the field of psychology. Psychologists are consumers of research, as our clinical work is influenced by research findings. Psychologists are also researchers, as research is the force that propels the field forward. Considering that research is important to the field, it is an important aspect of graduate training. If you plan to apply to graduate school in psychology, research experience helps graduate programs assess your preparedness for graduate training. Your involvement on a research team demonstrates your authentic interest in research and it suggests that you have more advanced skills than students who do not have research team experience. When reviewing doctoral applications for admission to the doctoral program I work in, I am always evaluating the applicant’s previous research experience.

So now that you know that getting involved in research is an important thing to do, you might be wondering what you will be getting yourself into. Being an active member on a research team can be very rewarding (I promise!).

  • First, something that should not be discounted, you gain exposure to the research process. I have found that some students have misconceptions about what research is and conclude that they are not interested in research because of this misinformation. In reality, research is very exciting, intellectually stimulating, and a strong vehicle for promoting social justice (get involved to find out how)!
  • Secondly, you can gain training and firsthand experience on how to conduct a research study from start to finish. You learn how to design a study (e.g., create research questions and hypotheses, select measures, review literature, etc.). You can gain experience in data collection, data entry, data analyses, manuscript writing, grant writing, and presenting research in public forums and at professional conferences.

If you are an undergraduate…Fundamentally, participation on a research team provides exposure to the research process. Having a history of participation in research gives you a strong background for entrance to graduate school. Participation on a research team also provides a way to network with professors. These professors will be great candidates to write letters of recommendation for graduate school or future employment.

If you are a master’s student…Research experience will be helpful when you conduct your own independent research (i.e., master’s thesis). Research team experience also helps you compete for entry in doctoral programs that have a scientist-practitioner model of training. Admissions to doctoral level graduate programs typically involve an assessment of your research interests and skills. Applicants are typically asked to talk about their research experience, and what they did specifically on past research teams. Participation in research with professors other than your advisor is a great way to learn alternate views of what research looks like, and is a great way to ensure strong letters of recommendation for future endeavors.

If you are a doctoral student…Research experience prepares you for your doctoral thesis, and helps an advanced student learn how to go about assembling her own research team to gather dissertation data. Research experience also helps in the realm of professional development by giving doctoral students the opportunity to present research at professional conferences and participate in the publication of manuscripts in scholarly journals. Research team experience prepares the soon-to-be-academic for assembly of their own research team once tenure track employment begins (there is life after grad-school)!

My hope is that you are thinking about research and how you can (need) to get involved. Involvement in research is critical in shaping the next generation of researchers – you!

Editor’s note: This post was written by Shannon Chavez-Korell, PhD; Assistant Professor, Counseling Psychology; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.